Analysis

Health Impact Project Director Comments on National Research Council Report

WASHINGTON—The National Research Council released a report, "Improving Health in the United States: The Role of Health Impact Assessment."  The publication states that “good health is determined by more than money spent on the healthcare system. In fact, a growing body of research indicates that living conditions—including such factors as housing quality, exposure to pollution, and access to healthy and affordable foods and safe places to exercise—have a greater effect on health.”

Aaron Wernham, M.D., a member of the Research Council committee that authored the report, is the director of the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. He issued the following statement about the publication:

“Some of the most urgent problems facing the country, such as obesity, diabetes, asthma and injury, are shaped by the conditions in the places where we live, work and play. While the rising cost of health care is a major concern, medical care alone is not the answer. The National Research Council report found that health impact assessments (HIAs) are a promising way to help identify and address how decisions in other sectors, like transportation, agriculture and energy, will affect people’s health.

“This report can be a game-changer. A similar National Research Council publication released in the 1980s helped establish the use of risk assessments for toxic substances, which have become one of the most widely used tools for bringing science into decision making. Today’s report helps establish the rules of the road in the fast-growing field of HIAs.

 “Setting clear standards could not have come at a better time. More and more states and communities are making HIAs a routine part of decision making in an effort to avoid unintended health consequences and build healthier communities. For example, the State of Alaska recently announced a program to incorporate HIAs into major permitting decisions. At the local level, cities such as Atlanta, Nashville and Minneapolis are using HIAs to capitalize on opportunities to improve wellness and, ultimately, reduce health-related costs in a range of projects and policy decisions.”

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The Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, is a leading national initiative dedicated to promoting the use of health impact assessments in the United States. 

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